Anne Enright, novelist and new mother, once made the mistake of confiding in a fellow-mother that "it's very low-grade work." Came the snippy response: "Rearing children is one of the most emotionally taxing jobs there is."
Enright retreated, thought about it, and decided: "Rearing a baby... can be lovely, but it is sometimes quite dull, and the rest is pure drudgery." So a question hangs over this new collection of essays devoted to the subject of new motherhood: can she make this lovely yet drudging work come alive?
Well, rather like child-rearing itself, there are highs and lows, good bits and grindingly uphill bits. She's at her best with the funny bits: "We take the baby out. Everyone says she is the image of her father. 'I'm not a woman,' I say, 'I'm a photocopier.'" And she's almost as good at the soupy, emotional bits: "Sometimes I feel as though I am introducing her to my own nostalgia for the world."
But Enright is at her best when humour bangs up against emotion, when her sardonic self spins the messy facts into something genuinely far-reaching. You laugh at "Children are actually a form of brainwashing. They are a cult, a perfectly legal cult," and then you think about it and realise how painfully true it is.
But the question still remains: is there enough to say about the hard slog and vomit? It's a telling fact that about a third of this book has already appeared in various publications: in short bursts, these pieces are funny and charming and surprising. It's when you read chapter after chapter that it starts to somehow mirror the drudge of baby-making.
Yes, I agree, buggies are finger-scrunching and vastly over-designed. But do I want to read about them at such length? And when I've finished that exegesis, do I want the full story of the bleaching and the burping and the Babygros and...?
I know what you're thinking - especially if you yourself, Dear Reader, are a woman (and mother). You're thinking: "As if a man would ever care." So, although I usually believe that the reviewer should remain seagreen anonymous, for this one I'm coming out of hiding. I did as much of the bleaching and burping and buggying as my partner. And precisely because of that, I think, I find it devilishly hard to read about it at such length.
And I know what you're thinking now. You're thinking that the whole trouble with men is that they never want to commemorate these daily events, they just don't see the romance in them. Fair enough, I'll plead guilty to that one. So if romance and commemoration is what you want, then, yes, Enright unquestionably does it wittily and gently, sadly and softly, with a hawk's unfailing eye for all of a new parent's manic, often nonsensical, zeal.
Jonathan Myerson's novel 'Your Father' is published by HeadlineReuse content